The Problem with Political Parties

by on January 14th, 2010

In his 1796 farewell address, President George Washington warned his countrymen of the problems created by the formation of political parties. It’s too bad that his advice wasn’t heeded. The Republican and Democratic parties now dominate politics in this country. They control more than 95% of the federal and state political offices in the U.S. Outside of local elections, it is extremely difficult for an independent or third-party candidate to win.

For example, there are only two independents among the 100 U.S. Senators, and none among the 434 members of the House of Representatives (there is currently one vacancy there due to a death). There are no independent governors and only a handful of state legislators across the country who do not identify themselves as Republicans or Democrats. And Abraham Lincoln was the last U.S. President we elected from a third party (yes, the GOP was considered a third party back in 1860).

Therefore, anyone who wishes to have a serious chance to get elected to a job higher than the position of dog catcher generally needs to first get nominated by one of the two major parties. And in order to get nominated, one must go through a kind a hazing process in which he or she must demonstrate loyalty to that party. In other words, to get nominated, one must toe the party line. So, while voters in any given general election do actually have a say-so as to who gets elected, their choices have usually been narrowed down to only two (both of whom are loyalists to their respective parties) by the time they go to the polls.

Very often, voters will think they are electing a moderate candidate, only to later discover that he or she was a wolf in sheep’s clothing. That’s due to a trick that major party candidates like to play (and usually get away with). After being nominated, candidates from the two major parties tend to downplay their party affiliations and create an illusion of independence during the general election campaign (except in areas dominated by one party or the other). After being elected, however, they quickly get back in line with their party’s more polarized agenda. They then repeat this scenario during of each of their re-election campaigns.

The bottom line is this: Because of our two-party system, political office holders are more loyal to the whims of their party leaders than they are to the people who elected them. They fear being dumped by their party more so than they fear being rejected by the people. That’s the kind of disservice political parties have done to our country. George Washington saw it coming more than two centuries ago.

Terry Mitchell